Popkiss: The Life and Afterlife of Sarah Records

Michael White

BY Michael EdwardsPublished Jan 26, 2016

20 years after it came to an end, Sarah Records is finally getting the reassessment it richly deserves. During its lifetime, their music was often ridiculed by the music press, dismissed as being too "twee" to deserve close critical evaluation. Time, however, has been rather kind to the label and its music, demonstrating that their DIY ethic was something that hardly anyone else was able to emulate. They started and ended the label on their own terms, and ended up being a huge influence on the world of indie-pop.
Written by former Exclaim! scribe Michael White, Popkiss: The Life and Afterlife of Sarah Records looks back fondly at the label and its music. The key to the book's success is that White was obviously a huge fan of Sarah Records during their heyday. Right in the introduction, he shares how he showed up in Bristol to visit the label's founders Matt Haynes and Clare Wadd, something that apparently wasn't unusual for them. But considering that they sent a handwritten response to every letter they received, it wasn't really a surprise that fans seemed to have a real connection to Sarah Records.
Rather than work its way through the label's history chronologically from its humble beginnings in 1987 through to its planned demise in 1995, the story is told via the roster of artists. Bands with generous discographies, such as the Field Mice and the Orchids, get a chapter each, while others are grouped together; there are a few other chapters that fill in the other gaps. White was able to interview members of almost all the bands, making this a remarkably comprehensive document considering that quite a few of them have moved on to other things. And pretty much everyone looks back at their time with the label fondly.
Popkiss provides good, thorough context to Sarah Records, too, detailing the music scene that came before and after and looking at the other factors that influenced the label, such as gender politics and the public transport system of Bristol. There's also, predictably, an awful lot about the music, showing that it wasn't all jangly guitar pop, even if that was their bread and butter.
While Popkiss might be a love letter to the label, it's delivered without being maudlin or, god forbid, twee. White finds the right balance between writing as a fan and simply reporting the facts, and that results in an entertaining book that will appeal both to newcomers and those familiar with the label.

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